Liz Truss urges Government to withdraw from Stonewall diversity scheme

The UK’s equalities minister is pushing for Government departments to withdraw from the Stonewall diversity scheme amid concerns it may not provide value for money. Liz Truss, the women and equalities Minister, has told officials she does not think that Whitehall departments should be signed up to the programme, which costs around £2,500 a year and gives employers access to resources to make them more "inclusive". Membership of the Stonewall "diversity champions" scheme gives companies training about pronouns and gender-neutral spaces and helps to qualify for the LGBTQ charity’s workplace equality index. Described as "the definitive benchmarking tool for employers to measure their progress on lesbian, gay, bi and trans inclusion in the workplace," Stonewall claims its index makes companies more attractive to prospective employees. Members also get access to an "LGBTQ-inclusive jobs board" for diverse employers. The Times reported Ms Truss was concerned that the civil service already has an in-house diversity and equality scheme, and believes the additional cost of the Stonewall membership cannot be justified. Any decision on Government departments’ membership of the scheme will ultimately be made by the Cabinet Office, not by Ms Truss. Her concerns come after the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) and the employment dispute service Acas withdrew for "cost reasons". An EHRC spokesman said the body had "extensive expertise in this area" and had concluded that the diversity champions programme "did not constitute best value for money". Figures show that Stonewall earned £3.27m in 2019 from the diversity scheme and other related programmes directed at schools and multinational companies. According to the charity, its flagship diversity champions scheme has 850 members, including 250 Government departments and public bodies, including police forces, local councils and NHS trusts. Last year’s winner of the Stonewall Top Employer award was Newcastle City Council. The council’s deputy leader said the gong rewarded "everybody in our city who shows us every day that we are all equal and that our great city accepts everyone". In a statement released after previous reports about its diversity champions scheme, Stonewall said it had been the victim of a "sustained attack" of "misinformation" and denied claims that its work stifled free speech in the workplace. "We believe these attacks are threadbare and deliberately organised and coordinated to undermine support for our work to ensure every LGBTQ+ employee can thrive at work," it said. It added that it was "up to individual employers how they meet their statutory requirements" to support diversity and equality.

Major public sector bodies quit Stonewall diversity training as trans rights row intensifies

A string of high-profile public sector employers are cutting ties with the LGBT charity Stonewall amid mounting disquiet over its diversity training on transgender rights. Campaigners have warned of a “flood” of departures from the Stonewall Diversity Champions scheme, after the Equality and Human Rights Commission, the equalities watchdog, did not renew its membership over “value for money” concerns. The Telegraph has learned of at least five other major public bodies who have quietly pulled out since 2019. The scheme counts 250 Government departments and public bodies among its members. They pay thousands for guidance on gender neutral spaces, pronouns and trans inclusion and are ranked on the charity's Workplace Equality Index. A barrister last week accused Stonewall of providing potentially unlawful advice to the University of Essex, in a report on the ‘no-platforming’ of two professors who were disinvited from talks on campus amid protests at their views on the trans debate. As scrutiny of the programme grows, last week its list of 850 members disappeared from public view on the Stonewall website. But several major names on the list confirmed to this newspaper that they have left, though this was not related to the EHRC’s decision and they all stressed their commitment to inclusion and equality. The House of Commons said it did not renew its membership for 2020. The Driver & Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) said it exited in December, while Acas, the employment dispute service, said it had withdrawn “for cost reasons” last June. Dorset Police, one of multiple forces previously listed as part of the scheme, said it is now not a member. The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said it left in 2019. Meanwhile the Crown Prosecution Service, which faced a legal challenge over its trans guidance, said: “We are reviewing our Stonewall membership and will shortly make a decision on whether to continue this.” Barrister Akua Reindorf’s report prompted Essex University to apologise for cancelling Prof Jo Phoenix and Prof Rosa Freedman. He noted that its trans policy for staff “states the law as Stonewall would prefer it to be, rather than the law as it is”. Last night Stonewall’s chief executive, Nancy Kelley, prompted a furious backlash on Twitter by likening so-called “gender critical” beliefs to anti-Semitism. ‘Gender-critical’ academics and researchers argue that male-born trans women are not women, a view the EHRC has said is protected by equality law. Ms Kelley told the BBC: “With all beliefs including controversial beliefs there is a right to express those beliefs publicly and where they're harmful or damaging - whether it's anti-Semitic beliefs, gender critical beliefs, beliefs about disability - we have legal systems that are put in place for people who are harmed by that.” Campaign group Fair Play for Women, tweeted: “Stonewall reaches a new low. CEO Nancy Kelley is now claiming that knowing sex is real and can’t be changed is as bad as anti-Semitism.” In a statement, Ms Kelley said “organisations come and go depending on what works best for them at the time” from the scheme and the list of members was made private in a pre-planned update. She is “really confident” in its legal advice, which she says is based on EHRC guidance affirmed in the High Court, and “really comfortable” with its trans inclusion stance.